October 10th, 2010 / 11:36 am

Do you believe in talent? Please define the word and defend your position.


  1. Guest

      oh shiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit

      go in

      go in

      go in

  2. Elsleepinggringo

      12 pt. font, times new roman, 1″ margins all around.

  3. Sam Cooney

      when you’re better than 98.4% of the comparable population at a particular skill. has nothing to do with conscious work ethic or wider ethics. refers more the innate than the practiced, though inadvertent repeating of said skill may reveal talent.

      it’s gotta be about the vibe.

  4. lily hoang

      when my temperature is higher than 98.4, i am talented at being sick.

  5. Lincoln Michel

      Talent seems fairly self-evident to me. I’d be more interested to hear someone try to argue that it doesn’t exist. A good place to start would be arguing that, say, Bobby Fischer didn’t have a talent for chess or LeBron James isn’t talented at playing basketball. There are tons of people who work as hard, probably harder, than LeBron James at their basketball skills yet will never come even close to his skills. I think we know enough about genetics to know that people are born with differently working brains and bodies and those can help one become more skilled in this or that field.

  6. Justin RM

      No offense Lily, but I can hear David Markson now: “Boring boring boring.”

  7. lily hoang

      none taken. it’s just a question. why would i be offended?
      besides, if david markson had taken the time to say i was boring, i’d be pretty thrilled.

  8. deadgod

      if temperature modulation is a ‘skill’ of yours, and you are ‘better’ at modulating your temperature than 984 out of 1000 randomly picked people who also have this ‘skill’, then, according to sam’s useful definition, within a tolerable margin of plus or minus, you are talented indeed.

  9. lily hoang

      i’d say that’s a superpower, not a talent.

  10. Guest

      It seems like “talent” is often distinguished from “skill”–“skill” meaning like a “learned” thing and “talent” meaning some sort of “innate aptitude.” It seems like it would be difficult to separate the two within an “high achieving” individual, though. Also, I’m not sure this distinction is “valid.”

      In the case of LeBron James and Bobby Fischer, their “ability” is evident in the “relevant statistics of performance” in their respective games. Fischer has a high FIDE rating, or whatever, and James has a high points-per-game average, or whatever.

      I think the discussion that Lily was intending to “provoke” is one of “literary/artistic skill/talent,” not “skill”/”talent” within the context of a game with explicit rules and “win conditions.” In the “literary”/”artistic” context, it seems much less clear who is “skillful/”talented.” Even in the contexts of chess or basketball, which have many “relevant statistics of performance” for people to consider, there is no consensus on who the “best chess players” or “best basketball players” are. In the context of “art”/”literature,” which seems to lack “relevant statistics of performance” entirely, any sort of consensus seems impossible.

  11. Lincoln Michel

      That’s exactly why I bring up chess and basketball though. We would get near universal agreement that people are talented at these types of activities and many others. Yet because most people think that art is simply “subjective” (a term normally misunderstood) they suddenly stop believing that talent exists. But if we can agree that talent plays a role in almost everything else in life, and that genetics plays a role in almost everything, I don’t see why we’d assume those things are thrown out of the window when it comes to art.

  12. Daniel Bailey

      what’s with all these questions that seems straight-off an essay exam?

  13. zusya

      talent is knowing when something works, and making sure others are able to realize so as well.

  14. Guest


      It seems that a similarly “rigorous” definition of “skill”/”talent” in “literature”/”art” would be very strange, though. Like, “art” isn’t a “game” in the same sense that basketball and chess are “games.” There are no hoops to put balls through; there is no “mechanical structure” that indicates that someone has “won.”

      It seems like a similarly “rigorous” definition of “skill”/”talent” in “literature” would have to look something like “the ability to arrange lexicographic symbols into coherent morphemes and place them in series (or other arrangements), as well as to manage the extra-textual context and perception of said arrangements, as to cause the brain state of an individual reading these morphemes to become [???]” where “[???]” is the “desired effect(s)” of the “text” or whatever.

      And because this all “takes place” “in the brain” of the reader, and not on a basketball court or whatever, there are multiple “arenas” that this “game” is “played out” (i.e. multiple brains/people). One writer may be “skillful”/”talented” at writing things that have the “desired effect(s)” in a particulate class of brains/people (e.g. people who speak English, people who speak English and have read Shakespeare, people who speak English and like thinking about dragons), but be “unskillful”/”untalented” within a different class of brains/people.

      The next step would be to define in which class of brains/people is it most “important” to have the “desired effect(s)” “take place.” You might decide that “smart people” or “people with good taste” are such a class, but then you would have to determine what “intelligence” and “good taste” art. (It seems that “good taste,” with regard to this proposed definition of “good/effective art,” might be “tautological” or something.)

      So, anyway… Seems like it would be very strange and not very “useful” or “meaningful” to most people. Even if a definition like this was proposed, actually “determining” a writers “skill”/”talent” would be difficult. Maybe you could do polls or something.

  15. Trey

      yes, it is a question with no real stakes (if the consensus is talent exists, or the consensus is talent does not [and this is even assuming the discussion could possibly reach a consensus], nothing changes), but it is a fun distraction to think about for a while.

  16. Guest

      Like, in conclusion, it seems like “talent” and “skill” are not “coherent” concepts within the general understanding of “art.” Moreover, a more rigorously defined understanding of “art” would render the concepts of “talent” and “skill” unrecognizable as how the terms are generally understood.

  17. Lincoln Michel

      It is not necessarily for there to be a consensus on what is the best ever for talent to exist. I’m also unconvinced that aesthetics are purely subjective, but that’s probably a conversation for another time.

      I think talent is useful because otherwise you are left with the idea that “practice” and “work” is the only key to being a good athlete/artist/whatever. But that really isn’t true and some people will work forever and not achieve what others achieve with much less work.

  18. stephen

      good job, marshall. seems highly logical/coherent.

      i think the desire for a hierarchy of literary achievement is analogous to the desires for power, for money, or for “salvation” (via religion). i relate to one aspect of the desire for “great literature,” as i am presuming it to exist in people who “think this way”—that is, a desire for something to move and amaze me and make life seem more exciting and worth living. but i think that, as in the case of being in a relationship with someone, or loving someone (this is all my opinion and based on my understanding of a relationship/being in love), if i try to control the other person, control the relationship, control the terms, and control the values of the relationship, rather than sharing and accepting that everyone is different and trying to avoid controlling words and thoughts and behaviors, while those things are very human and hard to avoid, those things seem to come from being afraid, afraid of not being understood, afraid that no one relates to how i feel or think, afraid that a relationship (or literature) can never be “transcendent” enough to be acknowledged as such by someone else (or lots of other people). i think fear of death leads to a huge desire for transcendence. transcendent art. but that desire is possessive. it is a desire to have/possess “greatness.” henry miller said if there is to be any peace it will come from being not having.

  19. stephen

      *come through

  20. Lincoln Michel

      Oh, I think quite the opposite—that the “all art is the same and my finger paintings are just as good as Picasso and no one can prove me wrong!!!” line comes from an intense fear that one’s own tastes or achievements.

      That said, I’m not sure if this has much to do with the discussion. One can certainly think of a hierarchy of literary achievements even if you don’t believe in natural talent. The question wasn’t “does greatness exist” but “does talent exist”? Which is normally a debate about whether greatness comes from innate talent, hard work, luck or whatever combination of those and other factors. People who would deny natural talent wouldn’t say that like Michael Jordan was just as good as someone who failed to play in the NBA, they would just argue that he was a harder worker or something.

      Also, why would believing in the talent of chess players or musicians or whatever come from a position of fear from someone who doesn’t’ engage in those activities? We aren’t talking about our own talents or lack of talents in here.

  21. deadgod

      That’s a good point, Trey: even if “talent”, “skill”, “genius”, and so on don’t admit of interpretive consensus, objective standards, or precise definition, they are, as fuzzy categories. nevertheless occasions for thought about undoubted experience, namely, how one is affected by, say, a piece of writing. It’s necessary to be willing to work towards precision – especially when one doubts that the destination is reachable – , or be restricted only to talking and thinking with categories of perfect definition.

      Perhaps the conversation about these categories is an occasion, for some, of instant boredom, so, for them, that’s that. Do you think you know “talent” when you read it? Or, are you willing to call something ‘talented’ even if you don’t have a perfectly precise definition of “talent”?

  22. stephen

      i guess i was thinking of attitude toward things like “greatness” and talent. i think the defining of who has more or less talent—and to address the topic here or whatever, i do think natural aptitude exists—defining or judging talent in the context of art seems illogical to me. it seems like a focus on something that to me isn’t what art is “about.” because to me it isn’t about anything, including the demonstration of talent or skill. i guess in the context of criticism, where your whole job is to pretend your subjective opinion has objective significance, then yes, it’s “relevant”/logical. it’s pointless for me to comment within that arena, because i don’t believe in it. i don’t want to explain or “prove” why any artist is talented, or why any art is “great.” a big reason why i love art is because it is subjective and yet unifying, and it has no rules and it can’t be reduced to descriptive or evaluative words, no matter how many people attempt to do so.

  23. Trey

      Well, I think whether it took “talent” to write something or not, if it’s good, it’s good. Am I thinking of talent in a different way than others? I think of talent as a thing that affects ease rather than results. A hard worker can get the same results as a talented worker, but the talented might do it in a day and the hard worker in a year. I probably wouldn’t debate that talent exists, but I don’t think it’s necessary, or even, to me, anything I want to give serious consideration to (at least not any more consideration than a passing thought or two prompted by this question). Maybe that’s callous or uninformed?

  24. stephen

      and as for picasso, i have a print of his that’s a pretty simple drawing of a woman’s face and hands, one that any number of people could draw, and it’s called “war and peace.” because of the context, the title, and my feelings about picasso and other factors, i like it a lot. does it demonstrate “superior talent.” i don’t know, and i don’t care.

  25. deadgod

      I don’t think – here, at least! – “callous or uninformed”. Like stephen (above), I think you’re saying that your experience of, say, a poem is your priority, and that, while you might be willing to bandy the “talent” of the writer for a moment’s distraction, you’d not be willing to yield the priority of that experience, of your assessment of the character of that experience, to some hard-and-fast rule like, say, talented poets write poems that I care about.

  26. Trey


  27. Jordan Gillespie

      I think ‘talent’ exists in the art world as well as in sports/games/anything. Remember that kid in elementary school that drew cats or dragons with rocket launchers while you struggled with triangles and stick figures? Or the kid who told fascinating stories about how his neighbors were vampires while you talked about last nights meatloaf? Sure, these kids probably practiced drawing cats and bullshitting, but LeBron James also practiced basketball. I think that people who are ‘talented’ are more likely to work very hard to succeed at things they are good at in order to ‘master’ their ‘raw talent’.

  28. Owen Kaelin

      I think the one talking about meatloaf is now living in New York and just published a 600p Novel about America which even Michiko Katutani thinks is the bee’s knees.

      Thing is: I wonder if ‘people with talent’ aren’t just as likely to squander it, if not for what most other people would probably view as some sort of personality deficit (‘laziness’ / whatever), then perhaps because they don’t feel a need to work as hard, whereas someone with less ‘talent’ is likely to work harder to prove his or herself. …Although I’ll grant you that when a child’s friends, peers, teachers and parents view him or her as talented: they’re likely to push the kid, and that said Talented Child is likely therefor to find his/herself rather quickly drafted into the Talent Corps, which for a variety of reasons is likely to make that person work harder.

  29. rawbbie

      Some people can just do art, whether they want to or not. Examples: Rimbaud and van Gogh. Rimbaud wrote for 4-5 years, stopping at the age of 21. Van Gogh didn’t start painting until his late twenties and died when he was 37. Transforming the ideas that surround your medium in a short amount of time, defies the idea of craft.

  30. Guest

      how can “talent” “exist” when it doesn’t mean anything

      what has anyone “achieved”


  31. jereme_dean

      talent is your mediocre writing combined with your rich uncle who works for Harper.

  32. jereme_dean

      you don’t believe in mesomorphy?